Vulnerability and the Psychopath

Vulnerable red riding hood image by Maisy Marrs
Image Courtesy of Maisy Marrs

Psychopaths can easily spot a vulnerable person.

They have an uncanny ability to look at a you and tell if you’re a potential victim, one who will easily succumb to their mind games and provide them with what they need.

Vulnerability is defined as being “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt,” or “open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.”

What makes you vulnerable? What kinds of things let a psychopath know you might be an easy target simply by watching you walk down the street or by having a short interaction with you?

If you’re experiencing any of the following in your life, you could be giving off the vibes of a potential victim:

  • Loneliness
  • Isolation from (or the lack of) good friends and family
  • A craving for a love relationship (if you’re in this category, you are particularly vulnerable)
  • A previous victimization that hasn’t been resolved
  • A strong need for approval, attention or support
  • A poor sense of self-worth, low self-esteem or a lack of self-respect
  • Being new in town
  • The death of someone close to you
  • Loss of a job
  • A recent divorce or breakup
  • Illness
  • Any other stressful event or loss

It’s sad but true — the psychopath will hit you when you’re down, although he’ll act like he’s appeared in your life as the perfect person to fulfill your needs and desires. Vulnerable people are the easiest to victimize, and the psychopath can  bond with them quickly and deeply with promises of providing something they desperately want.

We’re all vulnerable at one time or another, and there’s nothing wrong with that — except that it can make you the target of a predator.

Stressful life events create a general demeanor of vulnerability — which the psychopath sees as weakness and neediness — that reveals itself through mannerisms and subtle signals like the way you walk, your posture, your facial expressions, the amount of eye contact you make, and the tone of your voice.

What can you do?

When you’re going through any kind of hard time in life, when you have some deep need that is unfulfilled, when you’re lonely or when you’re experiencing anything on the list above, be aware that you’re giving off vibes of vulnerability and be wary of new people who enter your life, especially those who seem offer a solution to your problem or an answer to your prayer.

According to Robert Hare,PhD, psychopathy researcher, psychopaths  indirectly communicate four basic things to seduce their victims:

I like who you are.

I’m just like you.

Your secrets are safe with me.

I’m the perfect partner for you.

To the vulnerable person the psychopath seems to be exactly what they need, so they happily take the bait.They believe their deepest desires have been fulfilled and their problems have been solved.

Actually, their problems are just beginning.

Psychopaths have a relentless need for self-gratification. They know exactly what your needs are, and they have the ability to put on whatever mask (persona) is necessary to get what they want from you. The psychopath gives you a delicious taste of what you need, which gives him great power over you. The realization that he could also take it away gives him even more power, and he plays that hand for all it’s worth.

Having needs is normal. For example, as humans we need love. That only becomes a problem when we believe there is only one person who can fulfill that need, one perfect partner who seems like our soul mate, who seems to know exactly what we lack and who seems to provide it so well. That’s the hook, the line and the sinker. It’s also absolutely untrue, but the victim can’t see this when caught up close and personal in the psychopath’s sticky web of deceit. After the fact, you’ll realize there was absolutely no substance to it; you’ll see the love the psychopath claimed to feel was like a mirage. In the desert, a mirage appears from a distance as a shimmering pool of water, but upon closer investigation you find there’s not one drop to quench your thirst. It only looked that way.

Psychopaths see human traits that they don’t have (love, insecurity, trust, compassion, fear) as weaknesses to exploit. They feel they have a right to victimize vulnerable people because they see them as weak or even worthless. They gain your trust and love only to gain control over you to get what they want.

If you aren’t aware your own deepest fears, desires, motivations and needs (and many people aren’t), you leave yourself open to the control of a manipulator. By knowing your own vulnerabilities, you can become aware of possible attempts at exploitation. Awareness of your “weak spots” gives you a chance to thwart an attack.

When someone knows you better than you know yourself, you’re at great risk. Take the time now to learn your vulnerabilities; it can help you to prevent victimization.

I recommend the excellent book by Harriet Braiker, PhD.,Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation Chapter 8, titled “What Are Your Hooks?” contains a valuable exercise that will help you figure out what you most want or need in your life, such as security, love, sexual fulfillment, happiness, a life partner, etc.

Some good defenses against a destructive relationship with a psychopath are these:

Know yourself well, which means knowing all the places where you’re needy, lacking, wounded and fearful.


When the perfect person comes along and fulfills your wishes like a genie from a magic lamp, look closely for the substance behind it, and look closely at the character of the genie. It’s hard to think critically and look for problems when you believe you’ve found someone wonderful, but it is necessary.


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4 thoughts on “Vulnerability and the Psychopath”

  1. James

    I believe my girlfriend has met a psychopath and am wondering what to do.

    Background: been dating for 2.5 years. In December, we spent 5 weeks together traveling, and my GF came back to the states, I stayed traveling. We had the most amazing trip, she told her mom when she got back I was going to be the man she marries.

    One month later, I believe a psychopath entered her life. Apparently she fell in love with this girl, was running around like crazy all weekend. They did lots of adderall together, and she made it sound like it was absolute bliss. She confessed everything to me (two weeks after it happened). I didnt get mad at all – but she told me she was going to see a counselor and we could go when I got back. I asked if I should come home and she said no. I wasnt worried at this stage, she asked for space and I told her i wouldnt contact her until I got back, giving her the space she needed. She seemed like herself despite what she was doing.

    A week later, I got an email that simply stated: “Just to be clear you and I are over”. She had gone to LA to visit this girl, and posted a couple photos online of them together. I texted jsut saying “Ill be home in one week and we can talk then – until then please dont be mean to me as if i deserve this”. She replied via email “You are not listening to me or respecting me at all. Do not contact me when you get back…etc” It was the most shocking and mean things thats ever happened to me.

    Apparently shed been acting very different at home too – picking fights with her mom, being very aggressive. distancing herself from friends – showing signs of amphetamine addiction. I got back from the trip and she refuses to see me or talk to me. She is on the phone with this psychopath every morning, evening, and constantly texting. Her mom said her phone was on the counter unattended for 5 minutes and she got nearly 20 texts.

    Im really worried about her – shes made some crazy life decisions in the course of two weeks. Dumping me, wanting to get rid of her horse (all our friends know she would never get rid of him in a million years — hes a family member and her work is in equestrian industry too), wanting to move out of her house/stop talking to her mom, and having plans to move in with this psychopath to LA.

    Her mom found a journal entry that appears as a contract with this girl. It scares me as is evident of brainwashing. My GF has never kept a journal…it reads
    1) I believe I can and will go to chruch every week (she hasnt been to church since middle school and is not religious in any way)
    2) I believe I will always be honest with myself and make myself and my happiness a priority 3) I believe I will always be honest and kind to [psychopath] and make sure she feels and knows that she is my number 1.

    I love her and have been getting advice from family and friends. Its totally mixed, people say I should let her be and she will snap out of it on her own – obviously telling me to move on. But she doesnt have anyone that is willing to step in and help her now before this happens except for me or her mom.

    I cannot blame her for whats happened, and want to help her, but dont know how. Your website has been a tremendous help in identifying another piece of this puzzle, however it is gear towards someone who is being manipulated to help themself, and im wondering how to help someone else who has met and is deep in the clutches of their psychopath.

    Thank you very much,

    I will add that she has gotten rid of EVERYTHING that could remind her of me – including all of her souvenirs from her trip, a very special leather jacket I bought her – it was her favorite -, etc. She blocked me off social media, and I really hope she hasnt deleted all of our photos from the past 2.5 amazing years. the thought makes me sick.

    1. James

      I will add that she has gotten rid of EVERYTHING that could remind her of me – including all of her souvenirs from her trip, a very special leather jacket I bought her – it was her favorite -, etc. She blocked me off social media, and I really hope she hasnt deleted all of our photos from the past 2.5 amazing years. the thought makes me sick.

      1. Admin

        She’s not herself right now — she’s under this woman’s control. Just try to hang in there, because she may come back to you when things go south with the psychopath. People do many things that are completely out of character when they’re under this kind of influence.

    2. Admin

      Hi, James. First, let me say I’m so sorry for what you’re experiencing right now! I’m sure it is terribly emotionally distressing.

      Your GF’s sudden, radical changes are very alarming. I agree the aggressive behavior is the effect of amphetamines. But of course it’s a lot more than that — this other person has taken over her mind and her life, swiftly, and to such a great extent that she’s given you up, wants to give up her beloved horse, and start going to church, etc. She sounds as if she has been brainwashed; what else could account for such changes? Psychopaths can form a bond — a strong bond — very quickly.

      OK, so what to do? I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to stop her. Any of us here will tell you that NOTHING could have stopped us.

      But even so, you and her mother should tell her exactly what you’re thinking. She may not want you to contact her, but after she leaves please have her mother keep in touch regularly, in a non-judgmental way, to keep the lines of communication open. That is very important. Let her know that she’s welcome to come back home at any time, for any reason.

      I would not be surprised if once she gets to L.A., things between her and the girl change drastically. I’ve heard many stories of people leaving their spouses, jobs and homes and moving some distance, only to be given the cold shoulder once they arrive. That’s all the psychopath wanted — to turn someone’s life upside down, abuse them for a while, and then shame them by making them have to go crawling back home apologizing to everyone and begging forgiveness. Luckily, many spouses, boyfriends, and family members did forgive them. They need a lot of support at that time — they realize the truth of what happened and also have to deal with the regrets of how they treated their loved ones, etc.

      This is the best advice I can give you. You may want to look for advice from experts who deal with families of cult victims — it’s fundamentally the same thing. I hope she will stay safe until this is over. Please come back one day and let me know what happens. Best of luck to you.

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